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Game Rant’s Andrew Dyce reviews Captain America: Super Soldier

Players who follow movie tie-in games based on comic book properties have learned to be skeptical. With several letdowns from both DC and Marvel properties — most recently the abysmal Thor: God of Thunder — it’s seemed less and less likely that a development team would be able to capture what makes a comic book character great and channel it into a satisfying game experience.

With Captain America: Super Soldier, the dedicated minds at Next Level Games have tried to do just that. But have they managed to produce a game that will get fans even more excited for the upcoming feature film, or one that will put an end to the nerd anticipation? Read our review to find out.

These days the formula for a third-person action game is fairly well understood, and games like Assassin’s Creed and Batman: Arkham Asylum are just two spectacular examples of how to do it right. Captain America: Super Soldier borrows heavily from both when constructing its combat and traversal mechanics, but if you’re going to take inspiration from another title, it might as well be from those at the top of the heap.

It might irritate some Captain America fans to hear the latest video game immediately compared to another superhero title in Arkham Asylum, but for those familiar with that title, the look and feel of Super Soldier will be instantly recognizable. The fact is that there isn’t much room to innovate in the third-person action genre, and if there’s going to be a development team that does, it likely won’t be for a movie tie-in.

The ultimate goal of Super Soldier, then, is to make the characters and signature style of Captain America shine through more than any of the component pieces. And while the end result is far from perfect, there is more than enough here to deliver a fun game for fans of the comic books, and those eager to get an early sense of Captain America: The First Avenger.

Captain America Super Soldier Spartan

The cinematic trailer for Captain America made it clear that the video game adaptation would be far more similar to the realistic and gritty feel of the feature film than the comics, and that’s certainly the case. Not just because Chris Evans brings some much-needed credibility to the game, but also due to the standard design of Cap being torn directly from the upcoming film.

And while the Nazi/World War II themes and origin story are thrown out completely in favor of a much more generic “invade and destroy the Hydra facility” plot occurring separate from the events of the film, Super Soldier still maintains its comic book roots. Captain America is known for two things: kicking serious butt, and doing it all with an untouchable moral compass. We’ll get to story later, but there is simply no denying that combat is the heart and soul of Captain America: Super Soldier.

If Next Level deserves credit for one thing, it’s making a musclebound man mixing martial arts, fist fighting, and gymnastic maneuvering seem not only plausible, but intuitive. The game’s plot is essentially a shallow premise to bring Cap into various skirmishes against hordes of increasingly powerful opponents. In all honesty, this would be a massive problem if the combat wasn’t about as satisfying as it can be. Cap is able to throw his shield as a ranged weapon or combine it with his fists and feet in melee mix-ups, combining grapples, counters and dodging to outmaneuver the various agents of Hydra.

From area to area, the enemies become increasingly difficult, with new attack methods being needed to fight them effectively. While the attack patterns quickly become repetitive, the challenge in figuring out each method is a welcome change of pace from the standard brawling. While painfully obvious solutions can get irritating at times, the slow and steady refinement to the player’s style ultimately leads to the final boss battles being far more entertaining and creative than those earlier on.

Captain America Super Soldier Scorcher

With combat mechanics that will certainly delight Captain America fans, the downside is that almost every other aspect of the game is bogged down by flawed design or an absence of focus. If you’re unfamiliar with the comic book series’ cast of characters, the first few hours of the game will leave you completely puzzled, blindly following the game’s objectives without any idea why. Without any serious story or character explanations, or introductions of any kind, the player is asked to care about rescuing total strangers. Bucky, Peggy and Dugan may be old favorites to many, but a newcomer is likely to feel like they’ve missed an important cutscene somewhere.

The lack of any clear narrative or overall objective isn’t the only thing that will have players feeling lost, as the level design leaves something to be desired. An increasingly in-your-face trail of bread crumbs is the answer to keeping players on track, which always leaves an empty feeling. If the developers wanted to offer a fast-paced action experience as opposed to a compelling story, that’s their prerogative, but leaving gamers completely lost without a glowing marker is a problem.

A lack of story and excessive hand-holding in traversal are big enough faults to overlook, but without a doubt, the leveling systems and collectible mechanics of Super Soldier are a complete disaster. Players only have three types of attacks to upgrade, and to do that, they’ll need to earn points. While well-designed games will award points to players for using specific types of attacks, Super Soldier awards them equally for combat and discovered collectibles.

And this is where it gets messy. Every room, every area, and every possible nook or hidden alley in the game contains a hidden item of some type, which also shows up on the map. What this means in terms of overall gameplay — aside from constantly getting lost in hidden passageways that seem far too well-designed to be the incorrect path — is that in order to upgrade quickly, the player must delay the game’s progression to seek out items on a minute-by-minute basis.

Captain America Super Soldier Shield

The end result is a completely broken and meaningless system that all but the most patient players will totally abandon before the game is done. Even so, the inspired and faithful combat, an honest performance by Chris Evans, and the unmistakable altruism of Cap is enough to deliver a game that is more fun than it is frustrating.

The issues won’t be easy to overlook for more irritable gamers, but for comic book fans, lovers of third person action titles, or Cap fanatics, Super Soldier will be a welcome appetizer for the upcoming feature film. And in the end, that’s really all a movie tie-in needs to be.

Captain America: Super Soldier is available now for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.